For a couple of seasons, he was a budding wide receiver threat wrapped around a nice story to tell: Greg Ward, collegiate quarterback at the University of Houston, made the transition to wide receiver at the NFL level and showed that, by golly, he could play the position well enough to catch 53 passes, score 6 touchdowns, and play 70 percent of the snaps in 2020, his second full season on the field in the league. This was a tale that had some legs, some oomph to it, and Ward patiently explained it every time he was asked about the mechanics of going from quarterback to receiver. And, oh, he was asked about it plenty.
Then came 2021 and a new coaching staff with the Eagles and Ward's story took a much different turn. With a wide receiver room fortified with four selections from the most recent two NFL Drafts, where did Ward fit? How did Ward fit?
"I know that I have a job to do and that has to be my focus," Ward said in Training Camp. "I'm here to present the best version of me."
Ward's playing time hasn't been as robust as in past seasons – he has played 202 snaps in 2021, 19 percent of the offensive plays. But Ward has been a key member of the team for many reasons – his leadership, the way he has accepted his role, and the plays he has made when he is on the field.
With 6 receptions for 93 yards and two touchdowns, Ward's statistics are down from his career-high performance last season. But Ward has been there when called upon – his 19-yard touchdown catch on December 21 clinched the must-have win over Washington at Lincoln Financial Field and on Sunday he and quarterback Jalen Hurts stayed on the same page at a critical moment. With the Eagles trailing 16-7 and in possession of the ball for their opening drive in the third quarter, Hurts rolled right on a third-and-14 play from the Washington 31-yard line and fired a pass to Ward down the field. Ward came back to the football and made a nifty catch for a 27-yard gain to keep the drive alive.
Four plays later, Boston Scott dived into the end zone from 1 yard away and Jake Elliott's PAT brought the Eagles to within 16-14. Ward's play helped change the momentum of a game the Eagles needed to have and eventually won, 20-16. Later that night, the Eagles clinched their return to the NFC playoffs and Ward's play – and everything he has brought to the table this season – was singled out by Head Coach Nick Sirianni.
"For a guy like Greg Ward to accept the role he has this season, one that has been less involved than it's been in the past, and to be ready when we've needed him, that's why we're here," Sirianni said. "He's a true professional. He's continued to work hard and be a leader and help our team in so many ways, and then when the ball has gone his way, he's been there to make the plays."
Originally signed by the Eagles following the 2017 NFL Draft, Ward spent a couple of years making the transition from a dominating college quarterback to a professional wide receiver who was required to be perfect in his route running and attention to detail. Finally, he got his chance in 2019 to play, and Ward delivered. In the final six games of that season, Ward led the Eagles with 28 receptions for 254 yards – highlighted by a game-winning touchdown pass at Washington with 26 seconds left – as the Eagles rallied to win the NFC East. He came back for more in 2020 and his numbers doubled. Clearly, Ward was getting the hang of the position and gaining more confidence.
But his situation changed in 2021. His mindset, however, didn't.
"I'm just going to stay ready when my name is called," Ward said. "That's all I'm focused on."
Instead of sulking, Ward stayed true to the discipline that helped him make the team and learn a new position: He stayed on his game. He remained sharp. His attention to detail never wavered.
That diligence has paid off. He was asked on Wednesday by reporters if it has been difficult for him taking on a new role that doesn't feature him on the field as much as in the past. In typical Ward fashion – understated, confident, team-first – Ward remained consistent with his answer.
"I stay ready by staying on my routine, staying on my body, doing all the extra little things – staying after practice, just sharpening my tools just so that whenever my number is called, I'm ready," he said. "As far as it being difficult, no. The young guys ask me questions. I ask them questions. I always talk all the time. So, no it isn't difficult. Of course, I want to be out there more, but like I said I want to stay ready."
And he has been ready and will be for whatever comes his way. Ward would love to see extended playing time against Dallas on Saturday night in the regular-season finale, understanding that every rep is a good one in this league and that every rep matters. Then there is a return trip to the postseason, when the Eagles are going to need all hands on deck.
"Greg is one of the leaders on this team," Sirianni said. "He may not have played as much as he wanted this year, but he's always ready and he's always giving great effort on the field. That's what a leader does and the rest of the guys recognize him for that."